KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday ordered a major buildup of his country’s military forces in an apparent effort to replenish troops who have suffered heavy losses in six months of bloody warfare and prepare for a long tough fight ahead in Ukraine.
The decision to increase the number of troops from 137,000, or 13%, to 1.15 million by the end of the year came amid frightening developments on the ground in Ukraine:
– Fueling fears of a nuclear disaster, the Zaporizhzhia power plant amid fighting in southern Ukraine was briefly knocked out by a fire on a transmission line, authorities said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the plant’s emergency diesel generators needed to be activated to provide the energy needed to run the plant.
“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans one step away from a radioactive disaster,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
— The death toll from a Russian rocket attack on a railway station and its surroundings has risen to 25, the Ukrainian authorities announced. Russia said it targeted a military train and claimed to have killed more than 200 Ukrainian reservists in the attack, which took place on Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday.
Putin’s executive order did not specify whether the expansion would be accomplished by expanding the project, recruiting more volunteers, or both. But some Russian military analysts have predicted a greater reliance on volunteers due to Kremlin concerns about a possible domestic backlash from an expanded project.
This decision will bring the entire Russian armed forces to 2.04 million, including the 1.15 million soldiers.
Western estimates of the Russian death toll in the war in Ukraine range from over 15,000 to over 20,000, more than the Soviet Union lost in its 10-year war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said last week that as many as 80,000 Russian troops had been killed or wounded, eroding Moscow’s ability to carry out major offensives.
The Kremlin has declared that only voluntary soldiers under contract participate in the war in Ukraine. But more willing soldiers can be difficult to find, and military analysts have said planned troop levels may still be insufficient to sustain operations.
Retired Russian Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky said in comments carried by Moscow-based online media outlet RBC that the Kremlin would likely try to continue to rely on volunteers, and he predicted that would account for most of the increase .
Another Russian military expert, Alexei Leonkov, noted that training on complex modern weapons normally takes three years. And conscripts serve only one year.
“A draft won’t help that, so there won’t be an increase in the number of recruits,” Leonkov was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.
Fears of a Chernobyl-like disaster have grown in Ukraine due to fighting around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia plant. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of bombing the site.
In Thursday’s incident, the plant was cut off from the power grid, causing a power outage across the region, authorities said. The complex was then reconnected to the grid, said a local official based in Russia.
Ukrainian energy authorities did not immediately clarify whether the damaged line carried outgoing electricity or incoming electricity to operate the plant. But Zelenskyy’s mention of emergency generators implied that the power supply was affected. Incoming electricity is needed to run the reactors’ vital cooling systems.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine would have faced a radiation accident if the diesel generators had not ignited.
He blamed the fire that damaged the transmission line on Russian shelling. But the Russian regional governor of Zaporizhzhia, Yevgeny Balitsky, blamed a Ukrainian attack.
Although the incident apparently did not affect the reactors’ cooling systems – the loss of which could lead to a meltdown – it has fueled fears of a catastrophe.
“The situation is extremely dangerous,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “I am receiving information that there are fires in the forest near the power station. We still need to investigate this matter further.”
Elsewhere on the battlefront, the deadly strike at the railway station in Chaplyne, a town of about 3,500 people in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, came as Ukraine braced for attacks related to National Day and the six months of war, which fell on Wednesday.
The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, did not say whether the 25 people killed were all civilians. If they were, it would amount to one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in weeks. Thirty-one people were reportedly injured.
Witnesses said some of the victims, including at least one child, were burned to death in passing train carriages or automobiles.
“It all crumbled to dust,” said 65-year-old Chaplyne resident Olena Budnyk. “There was a dust storm. We couldn’t see anything. We didn’t know where to run.
The dead included an 11-year-old boy found under the rubble of a house and a 6-year-old killed in a car fire near the train station, authorities said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces used an Iskander missile to hit a military train carrying Ukrainian troops and equipment to the front line in eastern Ukraine. The ministry claimed that more than 200 reservists “were destroyed as they made their way to the combat zone”.
The attack served as a painful reminder of Russia’s continued ability to inflict large-scale suffering. National Day on Wednesday celebrated Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.
Tetyana Kvitnytska, deputy head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional health department, said those injured in the train station attack suffered head injuries, broken limbs, burns and shrapnel wounds. shell.
Following attacks in which civilians have been killed, the Russian government has repeatedly asserted that its forces only target legitimate military targets. Hours before the bloodshed at the train station, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted the army was doing its best to spare civilians, even at the cost of slowing down its offensive in Ukraine.
In April, a Russian missile attack on a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killed more than 50 people as crowds of mostly women and children sought to flee the fighting. The attack was denounced as a war crime.
In Moscow on Thursday, Dmitry Medvedev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, said Western hopes of a Ukrainian victory were in vain and stressed that the Kremlin would insist on what he calls “the special military operation”, not leaving only two possible outcomes.
“One is to achieve all the goals of the special military operation and recognition by Kyiv of this result,” Medvedev said on his messaging app channel. “The second is a military coup in Ukraine followed by recognition of the results of the special operation.”
Follow all of AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine